I am thrilled to announce that Engine Books will be publishing a collection of my essays in April, 2016.
I have hoped there would be a place in the world for a book made up of short pieces like the ones I have shared online, pieces that are neither exclusively memoir nor exclusively craft, but try to capture the way that writing and life mirror one another and also interlace. So much of what I’ve written in dozens of posts over the past four years involves the way one’s personal history is a crucial source for understanding one’s own work and one’s work is a crucial source for understanding oneself.
And also, as someone who came to writing “late” – later than many, anyway – I have wanted to provide a kind of companion voice for others who feel discouraged, for whatever reasons. Or who simply feel alone with the vastness of the task, and maybe also the vastness of the passion for the task. And the vastness of the fears, of course. Not necessarily a rah-rah you can do it! voice – that is not my style – but something more like that of a friend who kind of gets it about how difficult this can be, both technically and emotionally, but who also has found some paths through the difficulties. And who also happens to be a complete craft nerd.
This book, as I envision it and as Engine Books and I have discussed it, is not meant to be any kind of “How To” book – though some of my essays do have some pretty serious craft aspects (I can dissect adverb use like nobody’s business) but rather an attempt to tell bits of my own story, with analyses of their relevance to others and to writing, in a way that helps other people tell whatever stories they choose. And my story, it turns out, is not just about events in my life, but is also very much about this many years long exploration of how writing and living inform one another.
I was in therapy for thirty-four years. And though that is a (long) story for another day, I think I learned as much about writing, in therapy, as I did anywhere else. I surely learned how understanding a story can change your life, and can help you “write” it differently next time. I learned about how much goes on beneath the surface of perhaps seemingly meaningless or seemingly clear exchanges. I learned too about the demons or neuroses (depending on what century you favor) that kept me silent, that shaped my work, that inform, to this day, the way my capacity to do the work ebbs and flows.
This will be a very personal book, it turns out. For me – and, I hope, in some ways for those who read it, too.
The decision to be a writer is a decision to dwell in and with yourself much of the time, even while it is also a decision to center your life around communicating to others. I am sure there are authors out there who find all such talk of self-knowledge and of analogies between one’s daily life and one’s craft choices to be of no use, maybe even mumbo-jumbo, but my experience writing these posts, primarily on the late great blog Beyond the Margins, has taught me that many of us benefit from exactly these sorts of conversations.
And that’s what every blog post I’ve ever written has felt like to me: the start of a conversation. And now that I am fortunate enough to be putting them together into a book, that’s the model that sticks with me. Not one of holding forth, or lecturing, but one of opening a door to exchanges with others.
The book – no title yet, maybe we need a contest! – will be made up of 52 essays. I wanted to use that number, with its echo of weeks in a year, to suggest that they aren’t all meant to be read in one sitting, that it might even be best to take them in, one a week. Though there’s no such requirement, obviously. But I will admit that I hope each essay is given a little breathing room, a little time to resonate before the next one is read. And if someone did choose to read one a week for a year, my hope is that the book could well provide a useful focal point for each week’s work, a concept or a craft notion around which to organize one’s thoughts.
And another hope: since I learned that Victoria Barrett had founded Engine Books, I have hoped I could to do a book there. I feel so very fortunate to have an ongoing relationship with Random House, one that co-exists happily with this project, but I have also wanted to have the experience of working with a small press, and for some time now, I have seen Engine Books as absolutely top tier. I have always had them in mind as the right venue for this particular book, should it ever come to fruition. Victoria Barrett and Andrew Scott are editors and writers, teachers, and community members who get what honest conversations between writers can accomplish, and who get what I am trying to accomplish with this work.
As I said, we don’t have a title yet, but we have Big Enthusiasm – and we have a giant celebration planned for the AWP Conference in Los Angeles in 2016. I hope you’ll join us if you’re there and get your copy then!
I feel incredibly privileged to be able to bring this book into the world. It’s something I have thought about for a long time, and now it has all my attention, the care of a top-notch editing and publishing team, and – I hope – some readers out there for whom it will be a good fit.
Please, wish us luck!!